By ELIZABETH DANEFF
Capital News Service
LANSING — Southwest Michigan schools are bracing for Gov. John Engler’s budget proposal. Education is expected to take a significant cut, leaving school administrators to make tough decisions.
State Budget Director Don Gilmer and fiscal experts calculated a $900 million deficit in the state’s general fund, and an estimated $400 million hole in school aid for 2003. The crunch is challenging lawmakers to make quick fixes before Gov. John Engler releases his 2003 budget proposal Feb. 7. The state’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
“We’re kind of in limbo right now,” said Norm Taylor, superintendent of Constantine Public Schools. “We would like to spend our money on instructional materials for schools but until we know exactly what will be cut, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Gilmer and officials from the Senate and House fiscal agencies determined that $10.6 billion would be available for school aid in 2003.
Rep. Cameron Brown, R- Sturgis, said the budget situation is a tough and challenging job to tackle, but the K-12 Subcommittee of Appropriations, which Brown is a member of, is working hard to sort out the mess.
“It’s premature to say what the K-12 budget will look like at this point.” Brown said. “The governor’s budget has not been be presented. I strongly believe that educatingyoung minds is the greatest challenge facing the state of Michigan. It will be a tough and challenging job to say the least, but school funding must remain the state’s budget priority No. 1.”
Like most districts around the state, Three Rivers ISD and Constantine Public Schools will have to carefully look at every program they have. Money for staffing, textbooks and technology will be especially tight with little or no additional funding available.
“It’s hard to say where the funding will be,” said Taylor. “We’re not sure where cuts will be made, but I don’t expect to shorten our staff. We’re certainly taking input from the community.”
Under current law, Michigan schools receive a minimum $6,500 per student. A proposal was made last year to increase funding to $6,700, but many now doubt that will happen.
“As we all know, the current revenue is causing some challenges,” said Matt Resch, deputy press secretary for Engler. “Clearly additional funding will most likely not be available.”
Officials at the Michigan Education Association are holding out for the governor’s budget release before making conclusions about school aid for next year.
“We’re doing what many other organizations are doing across the state,” said Karen Schulz, a communications consultant for the MEA. “We’re lobbying to preserve funding for public education because it’s so important for Michigan’s future, but we’re waiting for the governor to release his budget before we determine what would or could happen to our schools.”
Gilmer said he couldn’t think of a department that isn’t going to have to cut costs, and that he hopes to keep per-pupil funding at $6,500. He does, however, expect a number of other expenditures currently in the budget for specific programs to be removed.
“We have made a significant investment in per pupil funding and in early intervention reading programs, both of which will pay big dividends to the state over time,” said Brown. “Public school funding is the largest piece of the budget pie.”
Schulz said the MEA realizes Michigan legislators are making very tough choices. “What will happen remains to be seen. We’ve heard the governor and a lot of political officials talking about what may or may not happen. We are still holding out hope that the legislature will keep funding at what they approved.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ELIZABETH DANEFF